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CAN’s Divided House

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A dispute arising from election of officers pits the Kaduna State branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, against national and Northern officers of the body

There appears to be no end to the face-off between Ayo Oritsejafor, national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and Samuel Kujiyat, chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the body. For more than three years now, the two leaders of the national body of Christians have been at war.

The genesis of the face-off was the allegation by Kujiyat that Oritsejafor was meddling in  the affairs of Kaduna State chapter of CAN. This was because when Kujiyat was elected as chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN on November 26, 2009, Oritsjafor said his election did not follow the laid down guidelines and refused to recognise him as chairman of the body in the state.   

But Kujiyat alleged that   Oritsejafor’s decision not to accord him recognition as the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN was because he had a preferred candidate for the position. According to Kujiyat, Oritsejafor, who was then the president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, sponsored David Bakare, current PFN chairman in Kaduna State against him. There was the claim that the Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, CPFN/ PFN bloc, whose turn it was to produce the chairman was persuaded by Oritsejafor to support Bakare, his preferred candidate who is not an indigene of Kaduna State. But Kujiyat, an indigene of the state was able to scuttle that arrangement and emerged victorious with the support of the Kaduna State government.

To worsen the situation, Yerima Danladi,   whom Oritsejafor endorsed for the post of secretary general of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN was rejected by Kujiyat. Instead, the Kaduna chairman of CAN replaced Danladi with Samuel Nmadu, although Nmadu later resigned due to pressure from his Evangelical Church of West Africa, ECWA, bloc.  Later on, Kujiyat brought in Joshua Mallam as general secretary of the body.

However, since Bakare, Oritsejafor’s anointed candidate for the chairmanship position of CAN in the state lost the election, he declared the election null and void. This action further worsened the strained relationship between the two religious leaders.  Although PFN and CAN in the Northern states claimed that Kujiyat was defeated by Bakare during their primary election based on his endorsement by the CPFN/ PFN, Kujiyat insisted that the position of the chairman was never zoned to any bloc in Kaduna CAN. He said that the four blocs that make up Kaduna CAN voted for him during the general election in 2009. He wondered why Oritsejafor who was not present during the election reached the conclusion that the exercise was not free and fair.

Oritsejafor is being accused of using his position as national president of CAN to ensure that the national secretariat of the body did not recognise Kujiyat as the chairman in Kaduna. The wrangling between Oritsejafor and Kujiyat split Christian faithfuls in the state. As a result of the face-off, the Kaduna CAN chairman was suspended from participating in all national CAN activities alongside Mallam, his general secretary, because they were alleged to have violated the constitution of CAN on election procedure. At a point in 2010, the national secretariat even attempted to forcefully remove Kujiyat as the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of CAN from office. This was, however, foiled by stiff opposition by the chairman’s supporters.

But events took a dramatic turn on April 14, this year when Kujiyat and Mallam, the secretary, were allegedly prevented by Oritsejafor from attending the annual breakfast prayer meeting between CAN and President Goodluck Jonathan held at the Presidential Villa Abuja. The national secretariat replaced Mallam’s name with Danladi, its preferred candidate.

Kenny Ashaka, the spokesman to the CAN president, told Newswatch that Kujiyat and Mallam   were barred from attending the meeting with Jonathan because the national body does not recognise them as chairman and secretary of Kaduna CAN respectively.  Ashaka said the national leadership of CAN was not happy with Kujiyat because he  refused to implement  Oritsejafor’s directive  that he should swear in Danladi as the authentic secretary of Kaduna CAN. Ashaka was emphatic that the Kaduna CAN chairman was barred from attending any national event of CAN because he disobeyed the national leadership of the body. “If he had attended the event at Aso Rock, Oritsejafor would have thrown him out,” Ashaka told Newswatch.

But Kujiyat denied being barred from attending the prayer meeting with the president. Rather, he claimed that he boycotted the meeting in protest for the substitution of Mallam’s  name with another. He got to know of the development inside his hotel room in Abuja. He claimed that he had an  invitation card to attend  the event and  also received the text message sent by Reverend Albert Uko, the national legal adviser of CAN, inviting him to the prayer meeting with President Jonathan.  The text message which he showed Newswatch reads: “Dear clergy, greetings from CAN headquarters. CAN president has directed that I invite all state CAN chairmen and their state secretaries to attend the annual presidential prayer breakfast meeting scheduled for Saturday 14th April, 2012, at the State House, Aso Villa by 8 a.m, prompt. All delegates are expected to arrive Abuja on Friday 13th April as accommodation will be limited to those invited. God bless you. Elder Barrister A. Uko,AGS/NLA,CAN.” Kujiyat further gave his hotel name as Bolingo Hotels saying that he collected the invitation card that was to admit him into the villa from Uko, the acting secretary himself and was checked into Room 402, Bolingo Hotel, on Friday, April 13.

Apart from having problems with the CAN national secretariat, the Kaduna CAN is also having a cold war with the 19 northern state chapters.   Interestingly, both of them share the same secretariat at Ibrahim Taiwo Road in Kaduna. Kujiyat told Newswatch he was angry with   the leadership of Northern CAN for aligning with the CAN president to persecute him.

The chairman  claimed that the CAN secretariat along Ibrahim Taiwo Road in Kaduna belongs to the state chapter  and threatened to  expel the northern chapters from the secretariat. He said that the continuous presence of northern CAN posed a security threat to them and would make sure the northern chapter vacated the premises. 

But Saidu Dogo, the immediate past secretary general of northern CAN and a former secretary general of Kaduna State CAN, said the state chapter lacked the locus standi to issue such order, saying, “Can a tenant eject a landlord from his house?, Can a son fight his father?”

Dogo told Newswatch that at the inception of the election crisis in 2009, John  Onaiyekan, the former president of CAN, had written Joseph  Bagobiri, the immediate past chairman of Kaduna CAN who conducted the election  directing him  not  to recognise the election of Kujiyat until all outstanding issues were sorted out. But Bagobiri, who is also from Kaduna State, ignored Onaiyekan’s directive and went ahead to inaugurate Kujiyat as chairman. The former northern  CAN scribe noted with dismay how Joseph Hayab, the former secretary illegally extended his tenure by one year as a grand plot to make sure that Danladi, the duly nominated elected candidate of TEKAN/ECWA bloc and recognised candidate of the national CAN did not come into office despite the directive of Onaiyekan and Oritsejafor.

 In his reply to Onaiyekan on January 17, 2010, Bagobiri said the election which brought in Kujiyat was supervised by representatives of the CAN national secretariat and officials of North-East zone of CAN. Bagobiri expressed surprise that the losers in the election refused to accept the outcome of the election.

As the face-off between Oritsejafor and Kujiyat rages, Yashim Kajang, presiding pastor of Treasure Ark of Hope Ministry International who is also a member of CPFN/PFN, believes that the way and manner the national president of CAN was using his position to pursue a selfish agenda was unbecoming of a religious leader. “what justification would the CAN president give for crucifying the chairman of Kaduna CAN? He asked. Kajang told Newswatch that Kujiyat’s election was the most credible and transparent in the history of Kaduna State chapter of CAN.

He said that as the father of all Christians in Nigerian, the president of CAN, should not have taken sides but rather work for peace within the body.

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